New York: Kei Nishikori and Naomi Osaka swept into the semifinals of the US Open in one of the best showings for Japanese players at the grand slam tournament. Nishikori defeated Marin Cilic of Croatia 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 4-6,6-4 in a marathon up-and-down struggle that lasted just over four hours. The win came after Wednesday’s opening match in which Osaka dominated Lesia Tsurenko in a straight-sets win, putting the Japanese 20-year-old through to her first grand slam semifinal.
The 28-year-old Nishikori, the US Open runner-up in 2014, won his match despite a weak start.
“It wasn’t easy, and I didn’t feel like I was playing, you know, best tennis today,” the number 21 seed said.
But as the afternoon match went on and shade spread across the court, he recovered to exact revenge on the seventh-seeded Cilic, 29, the man who beat him in straight sets in the 2014 final.
He and Cilic have played each other 15 times, with Nishikori now holding a 9-6 overall head-to-head record against the Croatian.
“It’s always a battle with Marin and it was great tennis today,” said Nishikori, who will face the winner of a match between world number six Novak Djokovic of Serbia and number 55 John Millman of Australia to be played on Wednesday evening.
It’s an especially sweet victory for Nishikori, who suffered a wrist injury two weeks before the 2017 US Open, which caused him to sit out the remainder of the year.
Cilic, who was seeded seventh, said he saw his chance of taking control of the match slip in the second set when Nishikori won six games in a row, converting three break points to tie it at a set apiece. That surge by Nishikori “put me back a bit on my back foot,”he said.
He came back in the fourth set, but couldn’t find his rhythm late in the match, while Nishikori converted his chances into points.
“So, you know, [it] came down to a couple points,” he said.
It was another day of high heat and humidity at the US Open, prompting tournament officials to keep an extreme heat policy in place. It allows men a 10-minute break between the third and fourth sets and women a 10-minute break between the second and third sets.
Osaka defeated Tsurenko 6-1, 6-1, sweeping her opponent off the court in less than an hour. The 20-year-old becomes the first woman from Japan to reach a grand slam semifinal in more than two decades.
Osaka, ranked 19th, hit five aces and won 91 per cent of the first serves in crushing the unseeded 29-year-old Ukrainian, ranked 36th,who had 31 unforced errors.
The success comes six months after Osaka won at Indian Wells, California. Her semifinal will be against the winner of the match later on Wednesday between American Madison Keys and Carla Suarez Navarro. — Reuters